ABOUT 30 Hongkongers travel to Bumrungrad International hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, each month for medical check-ups, according to Winky Ho, the hospital's marketing manager in Hong Kong.
Bumrungrad is the only hospital in Thailand accredited by the US-based Joint Commission on International Accreditation.
That and the fact that Thailand is a popular holiday destination has given rise to 'medical tourism'.
The hospital set up a booking centre in Hong Kong early this year to make it convenient for customers in this lucrative market to make use of its services.
Much of the hospital's business is by word of mouth.
'Our services attract families and groups. They travel to Thailand for body check-ups and stay over for holidays,' Ms Ho said.
Nearly 80 per cent of the hospital's customers choose the Comprehensive Health Examination, which costs 11,000 baht (HK$2,288) for women under 40, 12,500 baht for men and 14,500 baht for women over 40.
Similar medical check-ups in Hong Kong cost about twice as much. Bumrungrad packages also include eye examinations, which are rarely offered in Hong Kong packages.
Anthony Lee, chief hospital manager and medical director of Union Hospital, has visited various hospitals in Thailand on a field trip and said that Hong Kong counterparts could not compete on price. A major factor was the cost of labour, he said.
'Their cost of labour is a sixth of that in Hong Kong,' Dr Lee said.
But he said health care was not all about price. Hong Kong's edge was based on high-end services.
'Minimally invasive surgery is our current focus. It will become a trend because there is proof that patients recover faster from it than normal surgery,' he said.
'Our hospital has already added two new operation theatres devoted to 'keyhole surgery'.
'We will also invest more in equipment and specialist doctors in this field.'
Dr Lee is not worried by the competition posed by Thai hospitals.
He said that when Hong Kong patients went overseas for check-ups and were diagnosed with serious illnesses, most would prefer to come back to Hong Kong for treatment because of language and cultural differences.
They wanted to stay close to relatives or friends for companionship, he said.
Kwong Kwok-hay, assistant medical superintendent from Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital, echoed Dr Lee's views.
'We attract patients because of our good international reputation. Most of our equipment is first class [compared with elsewhere] in Southeast Asia,' he said.
'The Dual Source CT Scanner is one of them. There are only a dozen of them in the world, and we are the first in Asia to use this machine,' Dr Kwong said.
The Dual Source CT Scanner uses two X-ray sources and two detectors simultaneously to accelerate the procedure and reduce the radiation dose to the lowest possible level.
And with his hospital running an average occupancy rate of 95 per cent, Dr Kwong is unfazed by competition.
But he said that it was difficult for private hospitals in Hong Kong to expand and the city lacked new qualified staff.
Bumrungrad International, Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital and Union Hospital are exhibitors at the first edition of Hong Kong International Medical & Health Care Fair.